What makes a great Italian restaurant?
Being of Italian descent myself, I have inherited through my father’s DNA a deep and unyielding Italian Food Snobbery.
This may sound impossible, but I have never eaten at Pizza Hut, nor have I ever tasted a Domino’s Pizza. Fifteen generations of my father’s family simultaneously rolled over in their eternal sleep on that dark day when I set foot inside an Olive Garden. (I didn’t immediately burst into flames, and the breadsticks were pretty darn good, so I guess it was okay.)
It occurred to me some time ago that many people (by a sorry luck of the geographical draw) have never eaten authentic Italian food, or even a truly great pizza. Most “Italian food” in most of the United States comes from national chains that lack the atmosphere, authenticity, and quality of the Great Italian Restaurant Experience.
A great Italian restaurant should be dimly lit, with candles (preferably in old wine bottles) burning at each intimate booth or table. Stucco, arches, and Mediterranean-themed artwork are a must. It should feel like you have stepped into a trattoria in Rome.
From the maitre d’ (or hostess), right down to the busboys, there should be a pleasing degree of friendly service, as if you are a welcome guest in their home. Service should be impeccable, but still very, very personable. In Italy, waiters are highly esteemed, because they do their jobs astonishingly well.
A great Italian restaurant is owned and operated by an actual human being who has a passion for cooking (and eating!) good Italian food. Not a corporate board of directors trying to figure out exactly how many black olives can be taken off the salads (in order to save money and maximize shareholders’ dividends) before customers start complaining.
I often joke that “If it wasn’t cooked by a fat hairy guy named Tony, my dad wouldn’t eat it!” (and I do possess a valid license to make an ethnic joke like that).
I hate to perpetuate a stereotype, but Italians ARE passionate about food, and this passion should show itself in the quality of the meals served in a great Italian restaurant. Fresh ingredients, sublime sauces, and wonderful seasonings should prevail in traditional AND more innovative dishes.
And these things are what makes a great Italian restaurant. Buon appetito!